Monday, November 7, 2011


Fake Plastic's very own Fr. Jones shoots the breeze with Sarah Barthel of Phantogram about ghostly imagery, small towns, iPods, and their new record, Nightlife.

Click here for the Nightlife review.

FR: Honestly, before I even heard your music, I was intrigued simply based on the name Phantogram. Where did that name come from? Does it have anything to do with actual phantograms?

SB: No. Well, it didn’t when we were thinking about band names. Josh actually thought he made it up. He was trying to find a name that represented something from another world, something ghostly, something there but not there. We were thinking about Ghost Hands or Phantom Hands. There are so many bands and everyone takes a name, so Josh suggested Phantogram, as a description for a message from another world or from a ghost world or something. We really liked the imagery that came with it so we decided to take it. And then we looked it up and the definition was completely different. But it works.

FR: Yeah. It totally works.

SB: Yeah.

FR: How did you begin writing music and how did that lead to the development of Phantogram?

SB: I used to spend my free time on the piano just messing around. I’d come up with songs and then forget about them a couple days later. I never took it very seriously until I met up with Josh in 2006. And that’s when we started working together. He came home from living in New York City where he was pursuing a different band with his brother. He let me listen to some of his music and I really was amazed by it. I was in awe, it was so beautiful. And he asked me to sing the songs he was working on and it ended up working out okay. We then decided to collaborate.

FR: Eyelid Movies boasted some pretty stylish music videos with “Mouthful of Diamonds” and “When I’m Small”. Will any tracks from Nightflife be granted the video treatment?

SB: I don’t know. I’m not sure if that’s going to happen. I’m thinking the label will probably want us to do a music video for “Don’t Move” but I think it would be amazing to do something for “Nightlife” the song or “A Dark Tunnel”. That would be pretty cool as well.

FR: That would be the less safe route.

SB: Yeah, I know.

FR: What kind of equipment do you use to create Phantogram’s infectious beats?

SB: Let’s see. We have a laptop we record on in Logic. We’ve been collecting synthesizers, analogues, a 4-track, records, loop pedals, samplers, drums, drum kit, guitar, bass guitar, tapes and other types of equipment we like to loop things in and put samples in to distort them to make different sounds.

FR: What was the main inspiration behind Nightlife? Do you think your sound has evolved since Eyelid Movies?

SB: Yea. I think the main inspiration behind Nightlife is… a lot of experience and emotion, circumstances that Josh and I went through in the past couple of years while we’ve been on tour and been a band who has become successful. We wanted it to be heavy. We wanted it to be dark. We wanted it to have a different dynamic element that Eyelid Movies may possibly lack. Eyelid Movies… we were actually only hoping for it to be a demo when we finished it up in 2007-8. The plan was to just release it locally so we can have some music to play and sell to get our name out there for college radio stations and all that stuff. But it caught on a little bit quicker than we were expecting. So I think Nightlife is definitely a more mature sound than Eyelid Movies. If we ended up waiting a little bit longer or if we knew what the plan was going to be where people caught onto our music quicker, I think Eyelid Movies would have sounded a lot more like Nightlife.

FR: Is the EP a format that you embrace or did the music just need to get out? Any idea when we can expect another full-length from Phantogram?

SB: I’m not sure what the plan is yet. Josh and I are still figuring it out. I think our initial plan is to get back into the studio and start writing and recording a full-length-but there’s a side of me that is intrigued about another mini-LP and releasing it sooner. We will see.

FR: You guys have had a pretty rigorous touring schedule over the past year. Not to single anyone out- but do you have a favorite place to play?

SB: We played Santa Fe last night and it was so much fun. We love playing in Minneapolis. Also, the night before last we played in Phoenix and it was incredible too. Josh and I are big fans of driving through smaller cities where most bands don’t drive through or stop and play. You get a crowd and energy that you really can’t find anywhere else because they are so happy you are there. And even if you fuck up the entire set, they will still love it.

FR: What is the most difficult part of translating Phantogram into a live experience? What is the most rewarding?

SB: There’s a lot that needs to be done. It can get a little complicated to get the sound from the record into the live environment. But we’re able to pull it off pretty well. When people come up to us when we’re done and say that we were the best show they had ever seen, that has to be the most rewarding.

FR: Since you have officially become a popular female frontwoman for a successful band- are there any other female musical artists, either current or in the past, that influence you?

SB: Oh, man. I don’t have a lot of female inspirations. I look more up to male performers, singers, and songwriters. I guess if I had to pick one, I would have to say… Beyonce’.

FR: Music is currently available in a variety of formats. MP3s, CDs, vinyl, even cassette tapes are staging a mild comeback- what’s your favorite format for listening to music?

SB: I can say vinyl of course because it sounds the best. The experience of sitting down and listening to vinyl is an experience compared to pressing play on your iPod where you can’t really wait for the next song to come. Sitting and listening to a record and flipping it over, it’s more of a memory thing. But I also really enjoy listening to music while I drive and the only way I’m able to do that now is with my iPod. It just depends I guess.

FR: What’s on your iPod right now?

SB: Com Truise, Exitmusic and Sacred Spirit.

FR: In the past decade, the music business has changed drastically- from Napster to iTunes to Spotify. In your opinion, where do you see the industry going in the next ten years?

SB: I think you’ll see more singles. I think you’ll see more short records. Not necessarily more EPs but mini LPs. I think there will be more connection with visual concepts along with records- like possibly whatever gadget they’ll have that allows you to put on a record and project something off your phone on the wall while you’re listening to it. I think stuff like that is possible. I think people are going to start- even though I know it’s already popular at the moment- but I think music fans are going to start wanting to collect tangible music the way it used to be.

FR: Any advice to up-and-coming artists struggling to make it in the 21st century music industry?

SB: Don’t think you have to move to a big city to do it. Just work your ass off and believe in your music. Do what you have to do.

- Fr. Jones

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